Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Gennaro De Matteis's Great, Unknown Work of Architectural Rationalism (1940)

View from the terrace.  
That's the view--one of them--from our terrace in Flaminio last spring. The domed building on the right is, of course, St. Peter's, and we're more than pleased that we can see it while enjoying a glass of Falanghina.

But it's the other building, the white tower, that interested me.  I had seen the tower, and the massive edifice that housed it, from above, looking down from Monte Mario.  But I had no idea what it was.
From Monte Mario.  Obviously there's more to the building than a tower. Vertical windows throughout. 

Curious monument.

And so, on this, my second day of spousal abandonment, I set out to find out.  I crossed on the Ponte della Musica and headed south on the Lungotevere, stopping for a time at the Piazzale Maresciallo Giardino for a close look at an odd monument--that turned out to be part of the "scene."

The building that contains that white tower was just a few meters further on.  Aspects of it--the formidable front "entrance" that rejects rather than invites--seem almost medieval in conception, despite the rationalist modernism of the overall design.  The facade revealed that I was standing before the Istituto Storico e di Cultura Dell' Arma Del Genio, which translates as Historical and Cultural Institute of Armaments and the Corps of Engineers.

Medieval look to front entrance.  Lacks only a moat.  

Inside, I later learned, are the Historical Institute, the Institute of Military Architecture, a museum of military weaponry, and an archive that includes some 30,000 photos about military engineering.  And probably other entities of which even the Italian government is unaware.

According to some websites, the museum areas are closed for restoration, and have been since 2005. Others claim parts of the building are open to the public on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings, but I would bet the farm that's not true.  It was Saturday morning, and the place was shut tight.  I promise not to waste part of a Tuesday morning not touring the building.

The rounded interior courtyard, photographed off the website.

If you can't go in, you can take an unexpectedly luscious virtual tour, via the website:  Complete with martial music. You can go from one section of the building to another and from exhibit to exhibit by clicking on the blue dots, upper right, or turn around, or stop the tour and enlarge something you want to read or see more clearly.  Really, it's amazing.

From the back.  Rationalist perfection, especially
against a background of clouds.  
There's surprisingly little information about the building as a building, or about its architect.  I think that's because the apparent architect, Gennaro De Matteis, was a military engineer who did only this building.  And because the structure is isolated from the two great collections of Fascist architecture in Rome: Foro Italico and EUR.

Construction began in 1937.  The building was occupied in 1939.  Construction was completed in 1940--the date on the facade.  Address: Lungotevere della Vittoria, 31.  But you know where it is.


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